Healthy Living in the North

Pets as personal therapy

Pets are therapy

Nancy’s dog, Teva. Do you have a pet that helps with your mental wellness?

Socks, toilet paper and underwear – that’s what you would find on the floor of my house if you came over to visit me. But before you got in the door, you’d probably be greeted by a 90-pound German Shepherd named Teva.

Teva has been my friend for three years; I have not been able to break her habit of bringing me socks or eating the toilet paper rolls, but I have had a constant companion and outdoor buddy.

If you were to search Google, you’d find a lot of information discussing the benefits of pets and pet therapy – so much so that during my academic years, one of my papers discussed the pros and cons of pets in a health care setting. I laughed so hard when my paper came back with an A, and took it as definitive proof of the healing power of pets. I discovered the true benefits, though, when I got Teva, many years later. She was a mail order dog – and maybe just a wee bit of an impulse purchase. She arrived in Masset by air, and then home to Queen Charlotte City on her first long car ride, where I also experienced yet another first – dog car sickness, a nasty smell in my really clean, brand new-to-me car.

My original plan was to train Teva for a therapy dog but I have since decided she would be my therapy dog and it wouldn’t really matter if she brought me socks and chewed the toilet paper rolls.

So now I have a constant companion, someone to walk with every day, and who gives me huge dog hugs and licks and is always glad to see me…a perfect de-stress solution for my own mental well-being.

Your turn to share: tell me about a pet that helps your mental wellness.

Nancy Smith

About Nancy Smith

Nancy is a registered social worker who works with the youth in Prince Rupert. New to the north, she is happy to play outdoors and explore the trails and lakes in the good company of her German Shepherd, Teva. Nancy also enjoys gardening, music, and hunting for treasures at garage sales. (Nancy no longer works with Northern Health, we wish her all the best.)


Making a difference, one paw print at a time

Sandra Wyatt with dogs

Sandra Wyatt with Jazz (left) and Bella (right).

In the paediatrics unit at the University Hospital of Northern BC (UHNBC), we like to do what we can to bring smiles to the faces of our patients and their families – and what better to bring smiles than the wagging tail of a cute happy dog?

Meet Bella. A friend of mine adopted Bella from a Chihuahua rescue centre after a not so great start to her life. With much love, affection, good food, daily walks and training, in a positive manner, by a loving family, my friend and I began teaching her the many new skills necessary in the hope she would qualify for therapy work with sick children.

Bella and Jazz

Bella, 5 years old, and Jazz, 6 months old, honourary UHNBC staff members.

Finally, after much work, she graduated to twice weekly visits to the paediatric floor at UHNBC where she became, with staff approval, an honorary staff member! We have a photograph of her, proudly wearing her paediatric sweatshirt, on the wall for all to view.

Her main role is to calm and distract worried patients when they are having blood work done, examinations, or shots. Bella’s calm presence lifts the spirits of both staff and patients, and while she snuggles up to a patient who cuddles her back, it often brings contentment and a touch of normality to a scary situation. There are a lot more smiles when Miss Bella is around.

Bella’s family recently moved to Vancouver Island, but she still continues to do the “work” she loves and keep up her skills when her family flies or drives her up for monthly visits. Bella now has a new job too – training a replacement! Jazz is another therapy dog that now visits regularly to “fill in” for Bella and keep the smiles coming in the paeds unit.

Your turn to share – have you heard of pets helping in the recovery of people with an illness?

Sandra Wyatt

About Sandra Wyatt

Sandra Wyatt is the child life specialist in the paediatrics department of UHNBC in Prince George. She spends much of her "not so spare" time, developing and running her small dog daycare/boarding business. With rescue dogs of her own, walking 10km in a day is a usual day for her. Besides walking and working, Sandra loves gardening and this past spring, she re-arranged her whole garden to also “rescue” new plants a friend left behind after moving.